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A phrase we hear a lot nowadays is "lost in translation". The film with the same title has now amplified the use of the phrase to cliched levels; yet there does not seem to be an alternative that quite captures what happens when people communicate across the language barrier and it all goes horribly wrong.
Communicating with people from foreign countries is no longer something just politicians and businessmen do. All of us now come across people from different countries at work, in our own towns and cities and when we go abroad for holiday or work. You are now just as likely to need a few words of Polish to impress a potential future date you meet in the pub as you are when visiting Warsaw on a spot of business. Getting it right in both instances is critical if you want to make an impression.
In fact overcoming the language barrier is rapidly becoming one of the most critical issues of our time. People, businesses and governments are all trying to find solutions to their needs in order to live, work, travel or operate abroad. Language training continues to be an industry worth billions of pounds as people across the globe learn a foreign language for life, work, travel or love. International organisations such as the UN and EU have huge wage bills to cover the costs of interpreters and translators. Businesses wishing to tap foreign markets spend millions each year translating their documents and marketing materials. Even militaries are now investing large sums of money in creating translation gadgets for troops in foreign countries. And as long as people from different countries continue to speak different languages, this need will not lessen.
Anyone learning a language will tell you it is a complex thing; so complex in fact that most people give up learning. It is this complexity that has given birth to lots of hilarious examples of how communicating across the language barrier can go horribly wrong. There are now websites and even books dedicated to preserving some of the classic examples of "translations gone wrong". These gaffes can broadly be put into two categories; the written and the spoken.
Read more: Lost in Translation